Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Stephen Curry is a Joy to Watch

You don't have to be a basketball analyst to appreciate Stephen Curry's shooting talent: he has great range and a quick release. Fans can relate to what he does better than they can relate to high flying dunkers because most everyone has gone into a gym and made a three pointer at some time but most of us will never dunk a basketball (at least not on a regulation 10 foot goal); that makes Curry's shooting performances simultaneously understandable and amazing: while most of us can make a three pointer, few people can shoot the percentage that Curry does, let alone do so in NCAA Tournament games while facing intense defensive pressure.

Curry averaged 32 ppg in four NCAA Tournament games, shooting 42-90 from the field (.467), including 23-51 (.451) from three point range. He also contributed 3.3 rpg, 3.5 apg and 3.3 spg. While the average fan simply marvels at the way Curry makes the nets ripple, the more sophisticated observer appreciates the subtle features of his game. Curry is listed at 6-3, 185, though he looks shorter and smaller than that. He does not display great jumping ability or blazing foot speed but he is quick for a step and that--plus knowing how to play--is more important in basketball than just having the ability to run really fast.

In his great book Those Who Love the Game, Doc Rivers called Chris Mullin the king of tempo and said that the ability to play at different speeds is much more important than simply playing fast all the time. A defender can adjust to a player who always moves fast but a player who changes tempo can keep defenders off balance. Curry is a master of this. He'll stand at the three point line seemingly uninvolved in the play and then he will take a couple slow steps in one direction before quickly reversing field, darting behind a screen, catching the ball and shooting before the defense can recover. Sometimes he will do the opposite, backing his defender up with a quick step one way and then stepping back slowly; the defender tries to recover too quickly and goes flying past Curry, who is then free to either shoot or drive. Curry also uses different tempos when he has the ball; he artfully employs shot fakes, jab steps, pass fakes and other maneuvers to force the defender to react and commit. Good offensive players constantly put their defenders in a "recovery" position, as George Gervin once told me while explaining why Roger Brown was so great. Depending on how his defender reacts to his fakes, Curry can either shoot right over him, pass to an open cutter or drive to the hoop. Curry made some wonderful passes during the NCAA Tournament and he did them in an effortless-looking fashion that shows that this is a normal part of his game, not a fluke occurrence.

Although Curry is a great shooter, he is not limited to just being a catch and shoot player. He played point guard in high school and he has the ballhandling chops and toughness to drive into the lane and get off a good shot amidst the trees. This differentiates him from previous collegiate shooters like Trajan Langdon and J.J. Redick. Langdon washed out of the NBA after a brief career because he could neither handle the ball nor guard anybody and Redick appears to be on the same career path. Curry can handle the ball and he has the willingness and moxie to play defense, even against bigger and stronger players. He also has quick hands and the ability to anticipate and react to plays, as shown by his spg average.

The bottom line is that Curry is obviously a well-schooled, well-coached basketball player. He knows the fundamentals of the game--including shooting, passing, dribbling and faking--and he has spent a lot of time honing each one of them. That is a credit not only to him but also to his coaches over the years, a group that surely includes his father Dell, who scored 12,370 points in a 16 year NBA career, winning the 1994 Sixth Man Award and ranking 22nd in league history in three point field goal percentage.

For the 2007-08 season, Stephen Curry--who is only a sophomore--averaged 25.9 ppg, 4.6 rpg and 2.9 apg, numbers that are similar to what Dell posted as a Virginia Tech senior in 1985-86 (24.1 ppg, 6.8 rpg, 3.8 apg). Stephen not only resembles his father physically but his shooting motion and even the way that he runs are eerily reminiscent of his father. Dell's trademark move was the step back jumper: he would take one dribble going forward to make his defender retreat and then he would step back behind the three point line and bury a trey. Stephen does not use that move as often at this point as his father did in the NBA, perhaps because he is able to get open against collegiate defenders without doing so.

He has already announced that he plans to come back for his junior season, so it will be interesting to observe both how his game continues to develop and how teams try to defend against him.


madnice said...

Definitely the most excitement Ive gotten watching a player in years on any level. He has one of the quickest releases Ive seen. His form is Jerry West textbook. He can go to the basket and finish. I was hoping they would beat Kansas...they should of beat Kansas. Any kid playing the game and wanting to learn how to shoot and play the game should have watched Curry these last 4 games.

madnice said...

Also clowns like Skip Bayless saying he cant get his own shot is ridiculous. I guess he didnt see Curry drive to the basket and finish with either hand. I wish these guys would get off the air. The Stephen Smiths....Andre Aldridges....Rick Kamlas....Dick Vitales....Mike Greenberg...all of these guys who have the mic and say nothing of any value but get credit and praise. Its annoying and its tough to watch ESPN or any sports TV except for games anymore. I dont even need the analysis. I have my own or ill read here for that.